Finding Your Identity After Parenthood

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Having kids is like nothing else in life. It changes the way you think about the world, and lets you love someone in a way that you never knew possible; but parenthood it is not to be underestimated.  No matter how much you love being a parent and adore your kids, it is the ultimate test of grit and resilience and there are going to be times where you are exhausted, mentally broken, and feel lost in your direction in life. It happens because you start to care for someone else around the clock, someone who needs you, and only you for every waking moment, and all the things you had on your life to-do list gets put aside so that you can dedicate your whole world to this little person’s needs, while often neglecting your own.

 

Being a mom is such a blessing, and every day I am so grateful for those little boys who are growing into sweet and hilarious people who challenge me every single day.  It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I am always conflicted about my life as a mom and where I stand in the professional world. I have worked hard as a manager and as a student, and although being a mom comes first, I still very much value my future as a financial provider for my family while finding my own satisfaction in my career path.  I have spent three years putting my heart and soul into taking care of my family, and I find myself thinking a lot about my own identity besides being a mom. Cheryl Richardson, author, radio show host and teacher, states that “many mothers fall prey to the common misconception that their identity is merely wrapped up in what they do. You are more than the care you give your children and the responsibilities you take on for the good of your family, and you can reclaim your identity after children and marriage.”

 

Here are some things that have helped me on my journey through parenthood:

  1. Discover your interests: Spend time exploring what you like. The things that interested you before might have changed, and that’s ok! Take time out and get to know yourself again. For me, even listening to my own favorite music rather than Disney songs from Moana over and over again makes me feel like myself again. Take a class. Going back to school changed my life! It made me feel like I had “me” time again and a chance to start fresh with my career options.
  1. Do something out of the ordinary. Most of the time, being a parent is all about routine, especially if you stay home with the kids. Routines can help us to be more efficient, but breaking that routine every once in a while can be liberating. Take some time to go on a hike with friends, or find a fundraiser for a cause that you care about.  Social time is so important for creating connections and nurturing the ones you already have. Making yourself visible in your community can help you find a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity. Don’t get a lot of alone time? Take your kids! Go camping, head to the beach, or even go to a movie. “When we consistently stick to the same routines, some brain functions run on autopilot, but by changing our habits, we can force the brain to pay attention and exercise itself. Simply switching up your environment or changing your workflow exercises your brain, generating positive and lasting changes.

    My husband and I on a scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia. We left the kids with my parents to have some one on one time.
  1. Have some “me” time. Take time to take care of yourself. It does not mean that you are being selfish. For me, sometimes it means dropping of the kids so that I can focus on school work, or spending time with my husband one on one. The options are limitless if you just give yourself a little time to do whatever it is you want to do while re-charging and taking time to reflect.  Having uninterrupted time to think about what you really want can help you create a game plan for getting closer to your goal.
  1. Find your tribe. Whether it is your family, friends, colleagues, or someone you met at the park, finding people who you can relate to can help you form important connections and can help build a community of trust and support in your life. My tribe is my family. Many of them live in Reno and I know that when I need to get work done or do something for myself, I can count on them to help me out with the kids. My friends with kids help keep me sane because we can all laugh about the crazy things we do as parents while the kids play, and my friends without kids encourage me to think about where I am going next in my career and what I want out of life for myself.
  1. Use your resources. Find a quick class to take to sharpen your skills on a subject or program, or ask a friend in the industry to give you feedback on your resume. If you are still exploring your interests, try volunteering for a local organization. You will likely form valuable connections while helping others in your community that you care about.
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When spending so much time working with and for your kids, it is common to feel detached from who you feel that you really are. Parenting is a role that you play; it is an important one, but just as we are employees, students, friends, and volunteers, those positions are roles, not necessarily what defines us or who we really are. As parents, it is also common to be too hard on ourselves for not living up to who we think we should be in those roles. Parenting is hard enough as it is, but if you never make anything happen for you, you can’t expect anything to happen to you.  What are some ways that you have found your identity while caring for others? Whether you have kids or not, take some time today to reflect on who you want to be, what kind of example you want to set for your kids, and if your current path is leading you in the right direction.

Why I Decided to go Back to School

 

Wgraduationhen I graduated from college in 2009 with my bachelor’s degree, I was so happy to be done with school and start my career. I began working as an event manager for a country club, where I stayed and grew to oversee many departments over my 5 years as a manager. In 2013 my husband and I found out we were expecting our first baby, and although we couldn’t have been happier, I wondered about my career and what I would want as a mom.  I grew up with my mom staying home with me and my three siblings. I always loved having my mom there for us all the time, but I had planned to have a career and a family, and hopefully find a good balance.

 

I continued working once my son was born, and leaving him each day was heartbreaking. I came to a point in my career where there was no growth opportunities within the company. I wasn’t challenged anymore and working late nights and weekends made it hard for me to stay engaged. I decided to leave my job and take some time to figure out my next step while staying home with my son in the meantime.  The longer I wasn’t working, the more I felt like I was losing out on potential jobs in the future because of my gap in employment. I thought about going back to school; I always wanted to get my MBA, but it was one of those things I always said I wanted to do but for some reason knew that I probably would never actually do it.

I went through a period where I started calling myself out on making plans and not following through on them. I started writing things down, keeping a journal of ideas, goals and gratitude. Writing it down made it more real for me and I felt more accountable to myself as I could see all the things I was wanting to do, but wasn’t following through with.  I decided to take the GMAT, and once I was accepted to the MBA program at the University of Nevada, Reno, it felt like a weight had been lifted from me.  Actually following through on something I had been thinking about for so long felt like a relief. I wondered what else I could accomplish by holding myself accountable to my goals.

Going back to school felt strange to me. I was a non-traditional student, married with two kids and would be graduating when I was 30 years old. It was scary at first because it was new and different, but as I continued through the program I was learning so much valuable information, making many new friends, and became part of a network of resources that I never would have had access to otherwise.

Here are 5 reasons I went back to school:

  1. To acquire skills for a better job in the future. I value my time with my kids while they are babies and toddlers, but I want to provide a good life and financial start for them in the future as well. When I return to work, I want it to be something I am proud to be investing my time in.
  1. Personal fulfillment. Learning is exciting, especially when you are making the choice to be there for yourself. Challenging myself to develop new skills and perspectives has opened so many doors for me, and is the reason why I am so focused on personal development. It is an endless endeavor that builds confidence, character and gives a feeling of accomplishment that can’t be beat.
  1. Setting an example. Although my kids are very young now, it is important for them to see me studying and excited to learn and go to class each week. I want them to see from a young age that education is important, and as they grow older I hope they are encouraged to continue learning and engaging in personal development.
  1. Self-reliance and security. I have no doubts about the future of my marriage, but at a young age my grandfather encouraged me as a woman to be self-reliant and to create my own safety net so that I would not have to rely on anyone to take care of my family and myself. If something were to happen to my husband and he was unable to work, I know that I could provide for our family, and that is very valuable to me.  I am in charge of my own future and my own happiness, and continuing to develop myself gives me the ability to ensure that I am creating the life that I want.
  1. Keeping the balance. I love kids. I love the chaos and the funny things they say, their sweet innocence and unconditional love. I have to admit though, being with them all day every day makes me crave intellectual conversations, adult interactions, and challenges that don’t involve toddler tantrums. It is important to have your own time doing something you are passionate about, and school gives me that. It is the bridge between me as a mom and as a professional, which creates a balance that gives me the satisfaction of both worlds.

Being a graduate student has changed my life in many positive ways, I can’t even imagine where I would be if I hadn’t chose this path. As we get older and have more responsibilities it gets harder to find the time to go back to school or to start anything new for that matter, but it is never too late! The American Council on Education report, Framing New Terrain: Older Adults & Higher Education, shows more older adults are starting to return to college, pursue new career directions, start new businesses, and realize lifelong dreams. Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between the high school graduate and those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher exceeds $1 million, according to the College Board.

If anything, I encourage people to start a journal and begin writing down their goals, ideas and gratitude. What are you grateful for? How can you build on that to create and realize your own goals? Start small or go big, you don’t have to get a master’s degree, but hold yourself accountable to your ideas and plans, I promise that great things can happen!